MUNICH — President Emmanuel Macron of France called on Friday for an “intensification” of Western support for Ukraine, but, unlike other leaders addressing the Munich Security Conference, he also underscored that peace negotiations were the ultimate goal.
Mr. Macron declared that the “neocolonialist and imperialist” aggression against Ukraine unleashed by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “must fail,” calling Russia’s war “catastrophic and unjustified.”
At the same time, he used words like “dialogue” and “re-engagement” to describe an eventual interaction with Russia in the future, terms that Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, avoided in a speech immediately before Mr. Macron’s that was uniformly resolute and offered no prediction of an end to the year-old war.
Answering questions in English after delivering a speech in French, Mr. Macron said: “Now the question is how to resist? How to help the Ukrainians to make on the ground something which will force Russia to come back to the table on the conditions of Ukraine.”
But Ukrainian military resistance could not be the whole story, he told the audience. “None of us will change geography” and Russia is “on European soil,” he said. Given that, “we will have to negotiate.”
Of all major Western leaders, Mr. Macron has most persistently referred to the inevitability of negotiation with Mr. Putin’s Russia. He has stood out in arguing that peace talks must include security “guarantees to Russia.”
Such talk has sometimes irritated Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, as well as leaders of European Union and NATO states bordering Russia, who have long seen their Western allies as being naïve about the threat of Russian aggression. They contend that only an outright defeat of Mr. Putin — whatever that may mean — is acceptable.
Mr. Macron’s intricately calibrated argument on Friday, combining expressions of resolve with the conviction that reason will one day demand a compromise to end the war, was typical of a leader who has earned the sobriquet the “at-the-same-time president” because of his penchant for back-and-forth analyses.
The goal of negotiation, he said in response to questions, would have to be “an imperfect balance” that preserves “something sustainable for Russia itself.” But he added that it was far too early to try to formulate any security arrangement that would end the war on terms acceptable to Kyiv and Moscow.
The State of the War
- Vuhledar: A disastrous Russian assault on the Ukrainian city, viewed as an opening move in an expected spring offensive, has renewed doubts about Moscow’s ability to sustain a large-scale ground assault.
- A Sea of Crosses: A bleak, snowy cemetery is filling with more and more dead soldiers from the Wagner mercenary forces, a sign of the huge casualties Russia is suffering in Ukraine.
- Bakhmut: With Russian forces closing in, Ukraine is barring aid workers and civilians from entering the besieged city, in what could be a prelude to a Ukrainian withdrawal.
- Arms Supply: Ukraine and its Western allies are trying to solve a fundamental weakness in its war effort: Kyiv’s forces are firing artillery shells much faster than they are being produced.
“This is not the time for dialogue,” he said. The West must face the fact that although the “weeks and months” ahead could be “decisive,” the war might last much longer, Mr. Macron said. It was critical, he argued, for Europe and the United States “to be credible over the long term,” if Russia was to come to the negotiating table in an acceptable way.
Mr. Macron appears to have traveled some distance since declaring last year that it was necessary to avoid “humiliating” Russia and telling Ukraine it would have to wait “decades” to join the European Union. While he spoke to Mr. Putin on a regular basis just before the war and in its first several weeks — clocking 17 calls between early December 2021 and late March 2022 — Mr. Macron has not spoken to the Russian leader since September.
A meeting this month in Paris between Mr. Macron and Mr. Zelensky was effusive in its tone of mutual friendship and support. But an interview given just before the meeting, by Mr. Zelensky to the French newspaper Le Figaro and the German weekly magazine “Der Spiegel,” revealed lingering tensions.
In response to a question about whether Mr. Macron had changed, the Ukrainian leader said: “I believe he has changed and that this time he has changed for real.” Mr. Zelensky clearly meant that, in his view, Mr. Macron had fully and unambiguously embraced the Ukrainian cause.
The barbed remark did not go unnoticed by Mr. Macron, officials close to him told the French daily Le Monde.
Mr. Macron has insisted that his views have remained largely constant: denunciation of Russia’s illegal aggression against a sovereign state; support for Ukraine’s war effort to the point of “victory” (a word Mr. Scholz has declined to use to describe the objective of German support for Kyiv); and insistence that peace negotiations will be needed one day with Moscow.
He has also been insistent on the need to bolster European military capacity alongside NATO, and abandon the mind-set of relying on the United States for protection. He called on European states on Friday to “invest massively in our defense,” citing planned French military spending of $427 billion between 2024 and 2030, or $107 billion more than in the preceding six-year period.
“It is on the basis of a mental and material rearmament that, I believe, we will allow Europe to occupy its rightful place in future security arrangements,” Mr. Macron said.
Mr. Scholz also spoke of the need to better integrate and bolster the European defense industry, but alluded repeatedly to Germany’s intense cooperation with the United States throughout the war.
Mr. Macron told the audience in Munich that Russia had failed on several fronts since invading Ukraine: Its conviction that victory would be quick proved baseless; it had become a force for “disorder” in the world, as symbolized by the “neo-Mafioso” Wagner mercenaries operating as an arm of the Kremlin; it had consolidated the very Ukrainian nationhood it denied; and it had bolstered a NATO alliance that Mr. Putin demonizes, with Sweden and Finland having decided to join.
A year ago, Mr. Macron said, Mr. Putin had told him in Moscow that Wagner operatives “were not ours, in fact they pose us problems in Russia.” Mr. Macron conceded that he had believed Mr. Putin at the time, but said the truth of Wagner’s criminal activities as agents of the Kremlin was now evident.
France and Russia have clashed in several African countries where Wagner is active. Moscow has waged an intense propaganda war against France, portraying it as an exploitative former colonial power in Africa.
Still, Mr. Macron noted, Russia endures — as does Mr. Putin.
“I don’t believe for a second in regime change” in Moscow, Mr. Macron said, describing regime changes around the world in “the past decades” as “a total failure.”